This month will see a quickening of the pace of remembrance as the centenary of the Great War begins to be marked by genuine anniversaries of events 100 years ago.
I hope as well as attending the many local and national services and commemorations in the next few years, that many of us who are able will take the chance to cross the Channel to pay our respects at some of the battlefields and cemeteries which fill the roadsides of Northern France and Belgium.
My wife and I were at Thiepval in the Somme last weekend to see the remarkable monument to that particular battle. It is remembered most for the mistakes and appalling slaughter of the opening day, July 1, 2016, but is less well known for its later success in making a key contribution to the war’s conclusion. The graves are immaculately and reverently tended, and there is an excellent centre of information and exhibition, but it is the extraordinary memorial to those with no known grave – over 75,000 of them – which draws many visitors.
The names of the missing are inscribed on the walls, row upon row. I stood in front of those from Bedfordshire, many bearing names familiar today around the county, awed and saddened by the number, and by the extraordinary sacrifice represented of them and their families. I have been searching websites for more information about the personal stories of some of those who died there, and of the multiple tragedies which some families suffered.
There will be rightly much debate about legacy. Young people in particular will I hope learn about the continent’s history and politics, and understand a little more about ‘Europe’ as a result - Europe does not begin and end with the EU.
In a world still full of uncertainty and war, I hope some of our children will also become more dedicated to ensuring ‘never again’ becomes more than the failed slogan of their elders, and think of working in those difficult places, home and abroad, where working for peace is complex but so worthwhile.